“Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Angel Second Class, Clarence
For many of us, it took these words, proffered by a fledgling angel to a despairing George Bailey, to realize one of life’s most enduring truths. The timeless movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is full of valuable lessons. But its central theme – that each of us is a hero in waiting – should remind us that it’s through our challenges that our superpowers and unique gifts are eventually revealed.
For me, the essence of the story is conveyed in a scene not usually associated with the classic moments people remember about the movie. It’s the part where George and Mary Bailey stuff their car with a goat and other belongings of the Martinis as they help them move into their new home in Bailey Park. George and Mary then offer the symbolic gifts of welcome along with the traditional toast: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”
What’s your measure of success?
To me, this moment reflects the genuine sentiment that weaves throughout the story – that the things that matter most are not measured by money but in the currency of friendship, family, and the good that people do without the expectation of reciprocation. On a little-noticed sign in Peter Bailey’s office, this sentiment is encapsulated with the words, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”
What does this have to do with what we do as financial advisors? I would suggest that it has everything to do with why we are in practice. While every person can take some lessons from the movie, financial advisors with any ambition would be well-advised to glean these particular pearls of wisdom:
#1. True success is reaped from selflessness.
We follow George throughout the movie as his dreams of wealth and world travel constantly elude him. Instinctively, he always came to the aid of his family and community even as his personal life was unraveling. Yet, in the end, he came to realize that such selflessness spawns authentic success.
The story teaches us that it’s not just the famous people we read about who have influenced the world; each of us has a remarkable impact on history. I challenge anyone who has seen the movie to tell me that it didn’t inspire them to wonder what the world would be like had they “never been born at all.”
So the question we should ask ourselves is, “Are we using our influence towards selfish ends, or are we using it for the betterment of the world?” After watching the movie, you would have to have ice in your veins not to celebrate the central message that doing good reaps good things.
#2. Challenges are opportunities in disguise.
When we see all of the problems and challenges George faced in his life, we are made to feel as though things in our own lives could be a lot worse. We can thank George for that, but the reality is that, as a financial advisor and an entrepreneur, if you’re not experiencing them in your own life, you see people bravely confronting problems and challenges every day. It’s then when we realize that it’s through difficulties and challenges that our lives are given meaning, and it’s how we help people successfully overcome them that makes us all much more vital.
#3. The gift of accomplishment.
Because George was fixated on his dreams, he never realized how his work affected the lives of others. George never accomplished what he thought he wanted, but his life’s work provided others with a sense of accomplishment. Your work with your clients to clearly define their life’s ambitions and build a path to achieving them is an accomplishment you can feel over and over again. But, it’s only when you consider the sense of accomplishment felt by your clients, their families, and the people they influence that you understand the true significance of your own accomplishments.
#4. The profit is always in the relationships.
At the end of the movie, when his brother toasts him with “To George Bailey, the richest man in town,” did it finally dawn on George that real wealth comes from the relationships he had forged throughout his life, and that when all else is lost, it’s your friends, family and the people of the community who provide real security and comfort.
The movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, always reminds us to remember and appreciate all of the people in our lives who make it worth living. But, instead of waiting for Christmas to come around to heed the message, we would do very well to make it a practice each and every day, as our relationships are priceless.